CINCINNATI – Edwin Gates said he came upon a terrifying scene he never expected to see:
A driver – a 27-year-old woman on her birthday - slumped behind the wheel.
"She was gone."
The woman's toddler son in the back seat wearing only pants and shoes on a wintry Saturday afternoon.
The van's engine running.
"The vehicle was in drive and she didn’t have her feet on the brake or the gas. It was in drive and the ignition was on."
The only thing stopping it from moving into traffic – a lucky pothole.
"The pothole had her tire, had the van held. The passenger-side tire was down in the pothole."
This was a first for Gates.
"Nothing like that ever happened to me, so it kind of shocked me," Gates said.
But Gates figured God meant for him to be there, to be the one who noticed Rebecca Cooper's car, to be the person to save her life.
While Cooper was in court Monday, Gates was talking to WCPO about finding Cooper and her 3-year-old son, calling 911 and watching rescuers reviving Cooper with Narcan. It's one of a growing number of stories about a mom driving on heroin with kids in the car, like we told you about last week in our special report, Heroin on the Highway.
Gates said he and a friend were leaving the AutoZone on Seymour Avenue in Bond Hill. "I was on my way to put some brakes on a church member's car," he said.
"It was plenty of time for her to pull out but she never pulled out. I blew my horn so I went around her," Gates said, "and when I looked over she was slumped over in the van.
"It kind of scared me because I didn’t know - 'Did the person have a heart attack?' I didn’t know what was going on. When I saw her, I had my friend dial 911.
Gates said he got out of the car and opened Cooper's car door.
"I checked for a pulse and she had a real low pulse," he said. "I put the vehicle in park and turned the ignition off and when I looked back I saw the kid in the back seat.
"We grabbed the kid and put a coat on the kid because he didn’t have a shirt or coat - nothing but pants and shoes on. A little boy …"
The number of drivers high on heroin and the accidents they cause are increasing rapidly, Lt. Bruce Hoffbauer, commander of the Cincinnati Police Traffic Section, told WCPO. Before Cooper, there have been 148 OVI arrests for heroin in just the city of Cincinnati this year and 41 heroin-related traffic accidents.
An Indiana mom, Lacie Shelton, twice OD with her kids in the car, She was revived the first time, but rescuers were too late to save her the second time.
Thanks to Gates and his friend, Cooper is getting a second chance.
"By the grace of God that van didn’t roll out into traffic. She could’ve been dead and the kid could’ve been dead too," said Gates.
"But by the grace of God, you know what I mean? That I was there. She was there for a reason."
Cooper, of Independence, Kentucky, lives with her father and works with him at Cooper Automotive, her attorney said. Court documents show that Cooper got in trouble for heroin and child endangering three years ago, but the child endangering charge was dropped.
Cooper 's father said she has been clean for at least a year and a half but got sucked back into heroin by a friend. Now Cooper's father is watching her son and looking into treatment for her.
A judge set Cooper's combined bond on child endangerment and drug possession charges at $5,000 with 10 percent due. She also was ordered to stay away from her son.
As she walked out of the courtroom Monday, Cooper said: "Thank you, Judge" and headed back to jail.
It could have been so much worse.
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SEE WCPO's complete coverage of Heroin in the Tri-State.